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FROM THE

BY SARAH NIGBOR

The magic of the Laura books

This year in school, my fourth-grade daughter and her class read “Little House on the Prairie” by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I was so excited for her, because the Little House series is what sparked my love of reading and writing and I hoped it would do the same for her. I think it did, because she can’t wait to read the next book in the series. She’s also begging to go on a road trip of all the Laura sites.

I spent hours reading and rereading the Little House books when I was younger. They provided me countless hours of endless entertainment, transporting me across forests and prairie to the pioneer days. I was thrilled to learn that Laura had been born a stone’s throw away in nearby Pepin, Wis. Exploring the replica cabin from “Little House in the Big Woods” and the museum was one of the best field trips I remember from school. I found it fascinating that Laura’s grandparents, who she visited for a sugaring-ou dance in the first book, lived somewhere in the Rock Elm area, which is not far from where my own family lived.

My mother gave me one of the best gifts imaginable by taking me to visit all the Laura sites when I was younger, all but one. We still haven’t made it to Almanzo (Laura’s husband) Wilder’s birthplace in Malone, N.Y., but it’s on my bucket list. We didn’t visit all the sites in one trip, but spread them out over a few summers.

Of course, we started in Pepin, since it’s literally in the next county. We still attend Laura Days in Pepin each September. They’ve been postponed the past two years due to the pandemic, so I hope they return this year. It’s tradition to get my daughter a Laura ragdoll each year, similar to Laura’s doll Charlotte in the books, complete with yarn hair and a tiny dress, apron and bonnet. It’s fun to watch a true blacksmith at work, to make corncob dolls, to hear the fiddle music, we love it all.

In neighboring Minnesota, Laura lived on the banks of Plum Creek near Walnut Grove, first in a dugout and later in a frame house. You can still see the depression in the creek bank where the dugout was. Can you imagine living in the ground like a little mole? I remember walking into a café in Walnut Grove with my mom; I was about 11 years old and shy. Imagine my horror when a row of farmers turned from the counter and stared at the newcomers in town. They turned out to be friendly and full of information, by my pre-teen self was mortified to have attention drawn to me.

Another trip took us to Burr Oak, Iowa, where Laura and her family lived in and worked at the Masters Hotel in 1876 and 1877. Laura didn’t write about Burr Oak in her books and it’s often called “the missing link” in her stories; the family lived there at a tough time, immediately after Laura’s little brother Freddy died. The Ingallses moved there from Walnut Grove with a family friend, William Steadman. After one winter, the family moved to rented rooms above a grocery store while Pa worked at a feed mill. They eventually returned to Walnut Grove, after the youngest Ingalls child Grace was born.

Eventually Ma and Pa Ingalls settled their family in De Smet, S.D., the backdrop for the final five books. I was 12 when we made the trek to De Smet, where I was mesmerized by the historical sites. The Loftus store, Silver Lake, their prairie homestead, Big Slough, their house in town. We attended the Laura Ingalls Wilder Pageant, which has been performed by a community theatre group since 1971. One things I’ll always remember is a woman who cried and cried on one of the tours when she found out the “Little House” TV series wasn’t 100% true; it was based on Laura’s books, but mostly fictional.

Lastly, one summer we visited Laura and Almanzo’s final stop on their pioneering journey, Rocky Ridge Farm in Mansfield, Mo. They built a 10-room house from wood and rock found on their property and lived there throughout their final days. It was here that Laura became an internationally acclaimed author, but she wore many other hats, including parent, farm wife, cook, teacher, journalist, farmer, activist and secretary treasurer of a farm loan association.

As my daughter discovers the joy and wonder of the Laura books, I can’t wait to take her on a road trip to see the sites, as my mother did for me. I’ll never forget those trips, winding through country roads with the wind whipping our hair, anticipating the adventure around the next bend.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Laura: “ The real things haven’t changed. It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures; and have courage when things go wrong.”

June 21, 2022